December 2009

Pat Greer Eunis recently shared her remembrances of living in Johnson City, particularly in the Keystone area of town. After residing in JC since 1940, she moved away in 1965 but returned in 2006.

Upon arrival back in the city, Pat leisurely drove around the streets to rekindle memories of her youth. She warmly recalled the Dutch Maid Drive-In, The Spot Steakhouse, the 88 steps leading up to the old Science Hill High School, stopping at The Rexall Drugstore, getting a grilled doughnut and cherry coke before school at the Gables and attending the city’s movie and drive-in theatres. 

“In the summer of 1952,” recalled Pat, “we were among the first families approved to live in the newly built Keystone Housing Project at Broadway Street.” “My mother, maternal grandmother, two brothers, baby sister and I were living on Colorado Street at the time. We used my brother’s red wagon to haul our belongings to our new apartment.

“Mother worked for Carl Ingram's Dress Shop that was located in the Arcade Building between Main and Market streets. Carl sold some of the prettiest women's and girl's clothes at very reasonable prices. That is where mother bought our dresses, crinolines and poodle skirts.  He was a very kind-hearted man who often gave her an advance in salary. In the mid 1950s, I went to the shop and got $15 to buy groceries, which bought a lot of food for our family of five.”

Pat also recalled Jimmy Kennedy’s Used Furniture Store located on Market Street across from the Arcade. The owner also sold many odds and ends including comic books, letting her swap hers for some of his that she had not read. 

Pat remembered her maternal grandmother bringing the children to town every Saturday to see a movie: “That was the highlight of our growing up days. Christmas was the best of all because everywhere you looked was a fantasyland of colored lights, carols playing, people shopping and the ever-present Salvation Army bell ringers.”

Mrs. Eunis fondly recalled when the Appalachian District Fair, carnivals, circuses and tent revivals set up in the large vacant field at Broadway opposite their home. She said some of the events also took place between Main and Market opposite Roosevelt (Memorial) Stadium. Her two favorite preachers were Billy and Bobby McCool, who eventually established a church here. It was during this time that she developed a love of singing gospel music.

“We had some fun times at the Keystone recreation center,” she said, “playing ping pong, watching movies, competing in softball, chasing each other on bikes and roller skates, flying kites, playing hop scotch (including Double Dutch jump rope), engaging in snowball fights in the winter and enjoying snow ice cream made by our grandmother. We picked up empty pop bottles from the stadium after sporting events and cashed them in for money at Tipton’s Grocery. Also, in summer we swam at the Sur Joi pool at Watauga and Market.”

Pat attended Keystone Elementary, Junior High and Science Hill. Her first job at age 16 was working at The Spot making shrimp salads, an employment that lasted only 2 weeks. Next, she served as a curb hop at a drive-in restaurant at the corner of Main and Broadway. Later, she was hired at S.H. Kress lunch counter making, among other things, great chili hotdogs with coleslaw piled on top. Pat became an LPN after attending the J.C. Vocational School of Practical Nursing at Memorial Hospital.

Pat’s biggest shock upon returning to Johnson City in 2006 was finding the Arcade and other buildings torn down. She noted the smallness and deterioration of the downtown area and missed seeing local passenger trains. The city had changed significantly in her 41-year absence.  

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Louis Feathers, former resident of the city, once worked for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle. He shared his memories of working for the newspaper.

“My source of spending money from 1932 until 1938,” said Louis, “was from delivering papers. My first route was inherited from Dan Meador who moved from the city to a farm near Watauga. It involved delivering ‘Grit,’ for which there were a few customers spread over a large area. The quality weekly tabloid-size family publication is still being printed in Williamsport, PA. Back then it cost five cents.”

Feathers explained that his next paper route was a joint effort with his brother, Lee, delivering the Johnson City Staff-News. It was an afternoon edition that soon experienced competition from a new city newspaper, The Johnson City Press-Chronicle, started by Carl A. Jones and Charles Harkrader. It soon acquired the Staff-News and its companion morning newspaper, The Chronicle, which produced morning and afternoon editions.

“Shortly after quitting my job at a textile mill located in the “Y” section in the southwest part of town,” said Louis, “I received a telephone call from Judge C.F. Callaway at the Press-Chronicle about a position in the business office. He was referred to as judge because he had previously been a Justice of the Peace. I was told the firm had just discharged an employee and wanted to talk to me about the open position.

“It looked like an interesting job so I accepted it at a pay rate of $18.50 per week, not too bad considering the fact that the country was not yet out of the Great Depression. My responsibilities involved verifying an advertiser’s space and logging it in a journal, delivering copies of tear sheets (cut or torn pages from the publication to prove to the client that the advertisement was published) to advertisers, assisting wherever needed in the Advertising and Circulation departments and working in the Photo Engraving Shop. The latter job consisted of sending half-tone plates to other newspapers and printing shops that utilized our services. In short, I was a ‘go-fer’ for them.”

Louis described the composing room as a loud and foul place consisting of a bank of about six Linotype machines setting and casting the type for all the news matters in the paper. He described a large container of melting “pot metal” from which the plates for the printing press would be cast. The large print for headlines and advertising were typeset by hand. Feathers worked in the Press-Chronicle office from mid 1939 until he left for the military in January 1942.

In the 1970s, Louis revisited his former place of business and was escorted by his good friend Jim Beckner. By this time, the composing room had been converted into an art studio. A page make-up consisted of “pasting up all the material that was to be on the page. “It was then photographed for engraving on a thin sheet of metal,” said Louis. “This replaced the heavy half-cylinder casting that was used in the former process. The changeover occurred about 1950.”

Lee Feathers was employed in the composing room and belonged to the Pressman’s Union. The organization objected to the changeover because it eliminated several jobs and went on strike, but to no avail.

When Louis was drafted on Jan. 19, 1942, his strong desire to enlist in the Army Air Corps evaporated because his 1-A classification directed him into the Army. He was listening to bandleader Sammy Kaye’s “Sunday Serenade” on NBC radio that fateful Dec. 7, 1941 afternoon and heard the chilling news that Japan had attached Pearl Harbor. He later wrote in his journal: “News that your country is at war can ruin your afternoon.”  

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Christmas 1912 was a pecuniary delight to the pocketbooks of about 9,000 local inhabitants because of abnormally low Christmas tree, poultry and fruit prices.

While some people located and cut trees in rural areas, most urban dwellers purchased theirs from street vendors and nearby tree farms. Choice 4- to 10-foot trees that were straight and shapely could be acquired for 10 and 15 cents, affording the luxury of an indoor tree for even the poorest city dwellers. A cedar tree could be obtained for the cost of a loaf of bread. Vendors were eventually compelled to lower their prices to about the cost of transportation.

What caused this unexpected drop in prices? Talk early in the season of an embargo of cedar and spruce trees prompted residents to believe that prices for the commodity would be high for the coming holiday season. This caused a momentary swell in tree prices.

Soon, a glut of trees became available on the market by those wanting to make a profit from the supposed shortage. Those patrons who bought their trees early paid a dollar or more for them. Almost overnight, a deluge of trees became available for sale dropping prices substantially.

Sellers normally sold trees on a “cash and carry” basis. For those affluent citizens, trees with stands on them could be delivered to the customer’s home at a cost depending on the distance to the buyer’s residence. A stand added 15 cents to the price tag while a few sprigs of holly increased it another 10 cents. The plunge in prices allowed many shoppers to buy a second or third tree for home decorating. Christmas greens were also cheaper than usual that year with red berry wreaths selling at $1.25/dozen, pine ropes at 2.25 cents/yard and roping of laurel wreathes for 3 cents. The lone exception was holly, which was in short supply and high demand.

A similar scenario occurred in the poultry markets brought about by mild weather and good crops. The market became overstocked with a variety of fowl and game, causing the risk that the Christmas season would leave dealers with thousands of birds on their hands.

A 1912 newspaper noted that Southern Railway picked up approximately 150,000 birds, mostly turkeys, at Morristown and delivered them to New York for distribution. Suppliers of birds were situated mainly in East Tennessee, Northern and Southwest Virginia, Western North Carolina and Kentucky.

The rail trip with numerous stops took 45 hours, traversing the rugged and beautiful mountains of North Carolina, northward to Washington and onward to the Jersey yards by the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Surprisingly, there were no single turkey farms of any magnitude in East Tennessee; shipments were made up from numbers of small “drives.” An amusing aspect of this business was the fact that turkey raising was orchestrated primarily by farmers’ wives of the surrounding mountain country. Proceeds from the sale of their flocks provided a source of Christmas spending money to the ladies.

Poultry prices per pound were turkeys, 25-28 cents (compared to 32 cents the previous year); geese and roasting chickens, 25 cents; chickens for fricassee (cutting the bird into pieces and stewing it in gravy), 20 cents; and celery-fed ducklings, 25 cents. Prices were corresponding low for squabs, pigeons and other game.

Trimming for the Christmas dinner was also quoted at reasonable prices caused by the arrival of trainloads of fruit and nuts. Mexican oranges went for 10 cents/dozen, a basket of 10 to 14 apples brought 25 cents and large grapefruits sold for 6 cents each. 

Don’t look for those prices today; that was almost a century ago. 

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My mother was a huge fan of big band music in the 1940s, preferring “sweet” as opposed to “swing” bands. Although orchestras tended to focus on one genre or the other, most leaders incorporated a blend of each to satisfy their customers’ voracious musical appetites. Mom’s favorites were Guy Lombardo (“The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven”), Sammy Kaye (“Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye)” and Russ Morgan (“Music in the Morgan Manner”).

As a young lad, I also listened to the likes of Count Basie, Cab Callaway, Frankie Carle, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Shep Fields, Jan Garber, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Harry James, Wayne King, Kay Kiser, Ted Lewis, Johnny Long, Glenn Miller, Tony Pastor, Artie Shaw, Orrin Tucker, Ted Weems and others. 

Local radio station WJHL, affiliated with NBC’s “Blue Network,” (comprised of cultural and news programming) routinely held contests that awarded a prize to the first person to call the station and correctly identify the band being played from a 78-rpm record. 

About 1948, Mom won a contest and received $25 worth of groceries from Cut Rate Supermarket at 410 W. Walnut Street. I had never seen that much foodstuff at one time. We stacked it on the floor under our apartment dining room window. It took several weeks of hardy ingestion to make a dent in the victuals.

Sammy Kaye became known for a unique radio program that debuted in 1941 titled, “Sunday Serenade.” It was heard over NBC’s “Red Network” (consisting of entertainment and music) each Sunday afternoon from 2:00 to 2:15 Eastern Standard Time. Between 1942 and 1945, it was aired at the same time on Eastern War Time (the equivalent today of year-round Eastern Daylight Savings Time). The show eventually was expanded to 30 minutes and remained on the air into the 1950s.

The Sunday afternoon lineup featured performances from the band; the Kaye Choir; The Three Kaydettes, vocal trio; solo vocalists, Billie Williams and Nancy Norman; and special guests. The group’s two most recognized hits of that era were “Harbor Lights” and “The Old Lamplighter.”

Kaye's “Sunday Serenade” was a compilation of soothing music and thought-provoking poetry, submitted by amateur wannabe lyricists. The show became so popular that it spawned several books of poetry. Republic Music Corporation published a 66-page book in 1942 containing 49 poems. Sammy Kaye wrote a brief foreword to the work:

“This volume is printed in answer to the requests of thousands of our ‘Sunday Serenade’ listeners. If it can provide some measure of encouragement, comfort or just enjoyment, we shall have fulfilled our aim in bringing it to you. In selecting poetry for our broadcasts, we always try to find poems that will strike a responsive chord in the hearts of our listeners. We have also been fortunate in securing selections from the works of several poets who have achieved a distinct place in the field of literature.”

 A typical stanza from the book reads: “And when the shadows of life may fall; On the hopes that rise in the hearts of all; When you are gone – oh, come what may; There are memories never to pass away.” (Eugene Hall).

The most remembered episode of “Sunday Serenade” occurred on Dec. 7, 1941 when announcer Ben Grauer broke in to reveal the shocking news that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. One prophetic song played during the broadcast was “This Is No Laughing Matter.” In response to the bombing, Kaye penned the song, “Remember Pearl Harbor,” which became an instant rallying war cry with the public.  

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